July 14, 2021

Sukkah 7

We were previously taught in the first Mishna of Massechet Sukkot that a sukkah שחמתה מרובה מצלתה – “in which there is more sun than shade” פסולה – “is invalid”, while in today’s daf (Sukkah 7b) we are taught that this rule only applies to the shade provided by the s’chach – whereas if there is more light than shade in a sukkah due to the sunlight coming through the [often flimsy] walls of the sukkah, it is valid. What this means is that while the s’chach needs to provide shade from above, those who enjoy the sun are able to enjoy its rays that enter the sukkah from the side.

In his essay ‘The Symbolism of the Sukkah’*, Professor Jeffrey Rubinstein considers the symbolism of the shade of the sukkah and explains that, ‘to dwell in the sukkah is to experience shade. The resulting religious experience derives from the meanings of shade in Jewish tradition. Shade represents protection, the divine presence, and love… [and] the laws deeming a sukkah valid only if there is more shade than sunlight parallel the symbolism of the sukkah as a divine cloud.’ What this means is that by entering the sukkah, we make the choice to dwell under the shade of God and to experience the protection of God – just as our ancestors did while journeying through the wilderness with the clouds of glory above them.

However, there is a big difference between an individual choosing to dwell under the shade of God, and forcing others to do so. Moreover, while one person may be happy dwelling in a very shady sukkah, others may need a sun-filled sukkah – which can only be achieved by helping them create a bespoke sukkah which allows more sun through its walls.

Sadly, I often speak with Jews who feel that they were pushed into choosing faith, and who – only later on in life – come to realise that while there are certain absolutes in Judaism (eg. more shade than sun), there are many options available within halacha to create bespoke solutions that show sensitivity towards their physical and emotional needs (eg. by having a sukkah which allows sun through its walls).

Ultimately, as Professor Rubinstein explains, ‘residing in the shade of the sukkah is to experience divine protection, love and intimacy’, but just as people differ in terms of their needs within love and intimacy, so too, people differ in terms of their needs of shade and light, and it is essential that they know – and this is something that often arises in the halachic consultations that I have with others – that while there are certain absolutes in Judaism, so too, there is room for flexibility as well.

* nb. to read this essay which is likely to enrich your understanding of Massechet Sukkah, see https://bit.ly/3xDu6hy

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